Fourteen people who suffered losses in the High Park Fire shared their stories of trying to collect on their insurance policies Wednesday night. And most of those stories don’t have happy endings.
In fact, two and a half months after homes in Davis Ranch, Whale Rock, Stratton Park, Rist and Poudre canyons, Glacier View Meadows and other mountain subdivisions were reduced to ash, there’s no end in sight for the claims process.
The public meeting was organized by Davis Ranch resident Dale Snyder to provide a forum for those dealing with insurance issues to let state officials know what they are going through. More than 100 people packed the Larimer County Commissioners’ hearing room in Fort Collins and listened as Snyder and others who lost homes in the fire told their stories to state representatives John Kefalas, BJ Nikkel, Randy Fischer and Claire Levy, whose district was devastated by the Four Mile Canyon Fire near Boulder two years ago, and who sponsored an insurance reform bill that died in the 2012 Legislature. Also attending were Kevin Klein, director of Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; District 1 County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III; and Colorado Insurance Commissioner Jim Riesberg.
Most of the testimony revolved around underinsurance and the absurdity of the personal property inventory lists survivors are required to file for compensation for contents of a lost home. Many broke down when talking about the monumental task of listing — with make, model, date purchased, amount paid and other details — determining the present value and then shopping to replace everything in their house, a task they called “impossible” and “futile” and “designed to overwhelm.”
One solution proposed was requiring carriers to offer valued polices, which Snyder likened to life insurance – you pay your premium for a set amount and in the case of a total loss, that’s what you get, no itemized lists, no depreciation, no waiting until you’ve replaced your property to receive the payout.
Riesberg said there is no statute preventing valued coverage from being sold in Colorado, but it is usually only offered as additional riders for high-value items like artwork and jewelry. In the 19 states where valued coverage is mandated, he said, valued coverage applies only in a total loss and only for the structure itself, not for the contents or land.
Another issue was the one-year time frame for rebuilding. The clock starts ticking from the day of the loss – for many who spoke, that was June 11 – even though some spoke have yet to settle negotiations with their carrier for the cleanup of their property. Astrid, whose home was in Whale Rock, said she was given 180 days to agree to a 26-page declaration that listed – and depreciated – the lost structure down to the door knobs.
“Here we are at Labor Day, and even if they gave me a check for the full amount of my policy tomorrow – which isn’t going to happen – it can’t be done in a year,” said Larry Monesson, a builder and Rist Canyon firefighter who lost his home in Whale Rock. “It will take at least 18 months.”
He added that his adjuster told him policyholders can ask for an extension. “But they won’t put that in writing, so you’re supposed to rely on the goodwill of the insurance company, which is nothing to put stock in,” he said, which brought a laugh from the crowd.
With depreciation and underinsurance for the actual cost to build in the canyon areas, homeowners who want to rebuild generally reported being offered 30 percent less than the face amount of their policies. Trish Garner lost her home in Stratton Park, and said with the difference between the amount the insurance is willing to pay and the estimated cost to rebuild, she and her husband are having a hard time getting a construction loan.
“We don’t have that kind of money to finish the job then wait to see if the house passes the insurance company’s inspection to get paid,” she said. “I feel like they are holding us hostage.”
Kris Paige, who lost her dream retirement home in Livermore, summed up the frustration and hopelessness of many in the audience: “Why should I bother to rebuild?”
Riesberg encouraged anyone who thought they were being treated unfairly by their insurance carrier to contact to the Division of Insurance, which handled 4,200 complaints last year. The website is www.dora.state.co.us/Insurance/.
Levy and Kefalas plan to reintroduce an insurance reform bill in the next legislative session. Even if it passes, Levy reminded the audience that its provisions can’t be retroactive. “We can’t rewrite anybody’s insurance policy, but we can make things better in the future,” she said.
The third Roadmap to Recovery meeting with United Policyholders took place on Sept. 26, after the North Forty News went to press. It was dedicated entirely to the contents claim.